Fisheries Policy

Fishy Crimes: How Indonesia Is Taking Back Its Fisheries

Fishing boats in Labuanbajo, Flores, Indonesia. (Credit: Rosino/Flickr)
Fishing boats in Labuanbajo, Flores, Indonesia. (Credit: Rosino/Flickr)

Where does the fish on your plate come from? Chances are, not from where you think. There are several efforts and programs in the U.S. dedicated to tracking actual sources of seafood, often with a view on how sustainable the fisheries are. But illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing is happening across the globe, and it is a huge problem for the local fishers of some less-developed countries.

IUU fishing happens when ships, fishers, or harvesters operate in violation of the laws of a fishery, whether that fishery is under the jurisdiction of a coastal state or are high seas (international) fisheries that are regulated by regional fisheries management organizations. Essentially, it is fish poaching. IUU fishing also may violate conservation and management measures established under international agreements, such as quotas or bycatch limits. Additionally, illegal practices extend beyond fish to the take of endangered species and drug smuggling. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), IUU undermines domestic and international management efforts “by adversely impacting fisheries, marine ecosystems, food security and coastal communities around the world.”

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Rush escorts the suspected high seas drift net fishing vessel Da Cheng in the North Pacific Ocean on August 14, 2012. (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard)
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Rush escorts the suspected high seas drift net fishing vessel Da Cheng in the North Pacific Ocean on August 14, 2012. (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard)

As of 2014, IUU had caused about $23 billion in losses per year, with about 30 percent of illegal fishing in the world occurring in Indonesia alone. Yet since 2014, Minister Susi Pudjiastuti of Indonesia has been extraordinarily successful at re-establishing Indonesian sovereignty over their waters and has been responsible for unprecedented recovery of its fisheries. At an IUU fishing roundtable discussion in May, the Minister was introduced as “an unwavering advocate” for local, sustainable fishing and was praised for her hard stance against foreign fishing vessels entering Indonesia’s sovereign waters and taking fish illegally. The decade before Pudjiastuti’s appointment as Minister in 2014 saw steep declines in fish stocks within Indonesia’s waters. At the roundtable, Minister said there was a 50 percent decrease in households that relied on fishing in Indonesia between 2003 and 2013, a result of IUU fishing. Facilities that had once been busy with processing food were shut down due to lack of fish.

Prior to her government work, Pudjiastuti had more than 30 years of experience in the fishing industry and has taken many steps to improve sustainability measures, including the establishment of an airline (Susi Air) in 2004 that specialized in transporting fishery products inland. This reduced mortality rates in fisheries cargo such as fresh lobster imported from the coast – before then, it took 12 hours to ship lobster inland.

Pudjiastuti recognized that IUU fishing was a major threat to the local fishing industry of her country. But how can one combat a practice that is so widespread and hard to fight off? In 2014, she approached the new President Joko Widodo of Indonesia with a plan to take a hard line against ships fishing illegally in their waters, prompting the government to issue a moratorium for foreign fishing vessels within the Indonesian Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ). By prohibiting these activities within the EEZ, it was easier to investigate and evaluate where ships were coming from and to establish strict laws. Indonesia also adopted the practice of capturing illegal fishing vessels and disposing of them by blowing them up. The government has destroyed more than 300 ships since President Widodo launched the battle against fish poaching in 2014, most of them from neighboring countries. Understandably, this has created some tension in the region, but it has also worked to severely decrease IUU fishing in Indonesian waters.

These strict policies and practices have enabled an incredible fish population recovery — the portion of Indonesian GDP contributed to by legal fisheries has risen higher than ever before. With the goal of sovereignty over their own EEZ, the next steps for Indonesia are to ensure sustainability and prosperity. Pudjiastuti is shifting focus towards supporting local fishers and encouraging sustainable practices. Additionally, Indonesia has tens of thousands of kilometers of coastline to monitor, and the Indonesian Coast Guard and policing entities are stretched thin. Pudjiastuti explained that “This is the struggle point for us right now. We need help, or the milestone we have will be gone.” However, she believes that if Indonesia can crack down on IUU fishing, other countries with should be able to follow their example.

One thought on “Fishy Crimes: How Indonesia Is Taking Back Its Fisheries

  1. Really nice article Zoe. It shows how secure oceans and the blue economy are interconnected. So glad to hear the Indonesian fish stocks revived, and local, legal fisherman can benefit economically. Also glad to hear about the shift toward sustainable practices, which will ensure long-term economic prosperity.

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